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What are criminal records?

Criminal records are kept in every US state and by country-wide institutions such as the FBI. They are a type of public record, and as such are open to public searches. While many older criminal files are still kept at courthouses and police stations in boxes, the details of every case since 1996 are now kept on a computerized system. This makes searching for these documents, which can include police documents and conviction records, much easier. Criminal records contain information about criminal trials; from the moment an arrest warrant was issued to the time that an appeal was either successful or unsuccessful, and everything in between! Personal details, such as full names, addresses, dates of birth and even aliases, are detailed within these criminal public records, as well as information about the crime committed, the final verdict and the punishment handed down.

There are some exceptions to the kinds of documents that you can find by carrying out a criminal records search. You cannot search on ongoing investigations, while some states also exclude criminal records that have been expunged. This means that it has been several years since the crime was committed, and that person’s criminal background has been cleared. Some crimes cannot be expunged, such as violent crimes and offences against children. Some states exclude criminal files where there was an acquittal or the person involved was found not guilty and criminal cases that involved juveniles are not available in public records searches in order to protect their identities.

These records will contain lots of police documents, detailing the original investigation, as well as court documents from the trial. Often the information most people are looking for, such as personal information to make sure they have the right person, the crime that was actually committed plus the verdict and sentence will be easy to find, at the front of the criminal records file, so you shouldn’t need to wade through lots of paperwork to find the information you need. If you are searching online, all computerized documents will have been indexed so that you can easily access this important data.

Why search for criminal records?

There are lots of reasons why people search for criminal records. Many law enforcement professionals use these records in the course of their work to track down criminals or as part of their investigations. Some of the criminal databases that exist are actually only available to authorized professionals and not to members of the general public. This includes the NCIC (National Crime Information Centre) and the CJIS (Criminal Justice Information Services) both of which are run by the FBI. People who work in senior positions in certain professions may also have to carry out criminal record checks on prospective employees. For example, those who employ people who may have contact with children will want to check that everyone is who they say they are, and that no one has any criminal convictions which they have not declared. Many companies carry out background checks on their prospective employees and a criminal records check is an important part of this.

There are lots of reasons why someone may want to know if you have any felony records. Loan companies might want to check that you do not have a criminal background before they agree to lend you money; new reporters often use these kinds of criminal public records to get background information for their stories or to track down witnesses to events. Finally, members of the public might choose to carry out their own search on a criminal database to check out a new partner or an acquaintance, especially if they are considering making a commitment to that person or if they have been behaving suspiciously. In the past, your only option might have been to hire a private detective to dig into someone’s past, but now thanks to open criminal records and the internet, you can easily carry out this search yourself from the comfort of your own home.

One of the most important reasons that members of the public have to carry out detailed criminal background checks is if they work at a store which sells firearms. Before anyone can buy any kind of gun or explosives, the staff has a responsibility to check if they are eligible to own these weapons, and that potentially dangerous items are not falling into the hands of terrorists. There is a specialist criminal database for just this purpose called NICS, or the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Although the staff does not have access to the database or the criminal records themselves, they can call the FBI who will carry out the check quickly, and for free, on their behalf to ensure that all firearms sales are legal and safe.

How to search criminal records

Most criminal records have now been placed online, and even if the case you are searching is older than 1996 the basic details will be available on the internet, allowing you to find some basic details and then request other documents, such as police records, from the relevant agency. It can still be quite a task to track down the right person’s criminal records and to make sure that you have exhausted all search options. Before starting an electronic search, make sure you have as much information about the person in question as possible. A full name and date of birth are essential; while details about where they have lived will also help you narrow down the search. There are many websites which offer helpful tips on searching the millions of felony records out there and which criminal database is the best one to use. Some of these sites will even do the search for you though many charge a fee for this service.

Offender lookup is one of the most widely used of the free search facilities, and this kind of simple criminal records search is available on many websites. However, this will only return a small amount of information and if you discover that a potential employee or a new partner does have a criminal background, then you might need to use a more detailed search or contact the relevant authorities yourself. There are some specific search sites out there of sex offenders, which is one of the most common criminal conviction records that members of the public want to search for. Whether they are checking on the person who is going to be looking after their children or if they just want to know if there are any sex offenders living in their area, parents have every right to have this kind of information at their fingertips and online criminal records searches make this possible.

Problems searching for criminal records

The most difficult records to track are those that involve criminal files from before 1996, as many of these are only recorded in paper files. This means that while you can access basic details on the relevant state’s website, if you live a long way away that might be as far as your search can take you. If you know where someone once lived and have their personal details, some courthouses may carry out a telephone or mail search for you, but they will charge you a fee. Carrying out a detailed criminal records check on anyone, unless you are law enforcement professional with access to the FBI’s nationwide criminal database, could end up being a long, complicated and ultimately expensive process. Many businesses think this expense is worthwhile to ensure their employees are who they say they are, but a member of the public carrying out a check on a new boyfriend might be prohibited from finding out the full details of someone’s criminal background because of the time and expense involved. At least the online search sites that are available have made it relatively easy to find out if someone actually has a criminal record or a criminal conviction, even if you are unable to take the search any further.